It couldn't have been more appropriate that legendary A&R man Seymour Stein
sounded just a bit fatigued Wednesday morning as he spoke about the new Sire
Records Group, for which he was named president and CEO last week. True to his
visionary reputation, Stein had been out until 3 a.m.
catching a live display of power pop from the Apples In Stereo down in
Stein -- who over the past three decades has brought the Ramones, Talking
Heads, Madonna, the Smiths and k.d. lang to the ears of the world -- is always on the
Thirty-one years after he founded the cutting edge Sire label, Stein said
that he has come "full-circle" by signing on to head up Warner Music
Group's reborn version of Sire. "I think the time is right," he said of
his decision to retake the helm of the company he founded in 1966 and sold
to Warner in 1980. "All the companies today are either so big, or they're
small -- we're going to be right in the middle."
During the 1970s and '80s, Stein was renowned for bringing the noise first
of New York punk, then new wave, to a mass audience. In addition to the
Ramones and Talking Heads, he signed Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the
Flaming Groovies. Over the next decade he went on to break not only such
important acts as Madonna and k.d. lang, but the Pretenders, the Smiths,
Echo and the Bunnymen and Depeche Mode.
Stein said he plans to pilot the reincarnated Sire in the same visionary
direction that he originally forged for his label before leaving to become
president of Elektra Entertainment in 1995. Space
Hog, Hurricane #1 and Aphex Twin are among the current bands with whom he's
most excited to work. "I truly believe in these bands the way I believed
in the others," he said.
Because Sire Records will be a free-standing company with its own marketing
and promotion as well as distribution ties, Stein said he'll also be able to
follow his passion for country music, something he was unable to pursue
with his label in its original incarnation. "I'll get involved more
through the backdoor, through Americana, what they call alternative
country. To me that's more country than country."
Stein added, however that "I'm still an Anglophile."
The same keen ear for
British pop that pulled Stein toward the Smiths, Depeche Mode and Echo and the Bunnymen is today
leading him to bands such as Space Hog.
The label head is best-known, though, for capitalizing on the revolutionary
sounds coming out of clubs such as C.B.G.B.'s in New York during the mid-'70s.
It is there that Stein heard the Ramones play classics such as "Rockaway Beach" (RealAudio excerpt), "Judy Is a
Punk," "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend."
"When I went down to see them, it was all great," Stein said. "They wrote great melodies and great songs. That's what nobody was
saying, and that's what I saw, and that's what I believed in. Dee-Dee and
Joey were classic songwriters."
Stein said he continues to generate ties with independent labels, such as
Britain's Che and Amos imprints, something he said majors must do to remain
a vital force.
"The major companies have a hard time dealing with things quickly at the
grass roots level," Stein said. "[Historically], the majors were not
dealing with rhythm and blues very well or rockabilly. It just continued
on and on. The same can be said with disco, with dance music, with rap.
Independents are the people who are out there. They can't compete for the
acts that everyone wants because they have no money. What they have to do
is find the music before it becomes popular. They have to have courage." [Wed., Nov. 19, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]